The History of Women in Sports
Throughout history, women have fought for equality against men, significantly in the last century, as women have taken on greater, and more equal, roles in society. There have been several fronts on which women have fought for equality and one of those cases is in sports. Sports history is filled with men popularizing athletics such as baseball, basketball, boxing, football, track, and many other sports. It is quite surprising to many that women, as well as men, should take credit for their effort in athletic competition. Women have been known since the 19th century to take part in sporting events when, back then, they were supposed to be confined to more prim and proper activities. Historically, a woman’s duties were to take care of the family, do all the domestic work, and basically enslave themselves to their husbands. Because of this stereotype, it was highly frowned upon that women were taking on a masculine role by participating in the sporting world. Throughout the history of human existence, athletic competition has been regarded as an exclusively masculine affair. In ancient times, athletic competitions were held among warriors to prove their fighting prowess or otherwise demonstrate their virility. The exclusively male origins of competitive sport carried over into the Olympics, where women were not allowed even to watch competitions, much less compete. However, a separate women's athletic event, the Heraea Games, was eventually developed. The ancient Heraean Games were dedicated to the Greek goddess, Hera. These games where the first sanctioned women’s athletic competition to be held in the stadium of Olympia, which was the venue used to host the Ancient Olympic Games. Records of the Heraean Games date as far back as the 6th century BC. Like the men's competition, Heraean Games originally consisted of foot races only. The Heraea champions won olive crowns, cow or ox meat from the animal sacrificed to Hera, and the right to dedicate statues inscribed with their names or painted portraits of themselves on the columns of Hera's temple. The women competed in three age groups, on a track in Olympic Stadium that was 5/6 the length of the men's track. In the Ancient Olympic Games, it was a rule that the men had to compete in the nude. However the women had to compete clothed in chitons, which were garments worn by men when performing heavy, physical labor. Thus the women dressed like men. As mentioned already, women were not even allowed to watch the Ancient Olympics, under penalty of being thrown from the cliffs of Mount Typaion. In general, girls were not encouraged to be athletes. However, those raised in Sparta were the exception, where they were trained in the same athletic events as boys. This was primarily because Spartans believed that strong women would produce strong future warriors. These girl athletes were unmarried and competed nude or wearing short dresses. Boys were allowed to watch the athletes, in the hopes of creating marriages and offspring. Believe it or not, women were not even allowed to compete in the early years of the modern Olympics (top end sports). It wasn’t until the 1900 summer Olympics in Paris, France, that women were allowed to compete. There were only 3 sports in which women were allowed to participate in that year: golf, tennis and croquet. It was here that a woman took home a gold medal for the first time in history. Margaret I. Abbott, as art student in Paris, won the gold medal for shooting a 47 in the nine-hole golf tournament. Probably the most well-known female Olympian of the modern games is Jackie Joyner-Kersee, who is considered by many to be the best all-around female athlete in the world (about.com). Joyner-Kersee is ranked among the all-time greatest athletes in the women's heptathlon as well as in the women's long jump. (For those who don’t know, the heptathlon is a track and field Olympic...
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